General election

The day Keir Starmer cried on me about his childhood

I have had a good idea. It may even be an important idea. See what you think. The other day I interviewed Keir Starmer for my weekly podcast, Rosebud. It’s so called because of the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane. Rosebud, you will recall, was the trade name of the sledge on which Kane, as a boy, was playing the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. My podcast is about the early memories of people in the public eye. I wanted to talk to Sir Keir because he aspires to be prime minister and I didn’t know much about him. We met at St George’s

Rishi and Suella’s fates hinge on the Rwanda ruling

The first King’s Speech for more than 70 years was a festival of the expected: the royal reading of a No. 10 press release. Some dividing lines were drawn between the Tories and Labour and some loose ends tied up – but there was no real change in political direction. ‘It’s a continuance of the direction and path we are on,’ explained a senior government figure. ‘The most inspiring thing Rishi has done is refusing to endorse Braverman’s comments’ But if current polls are any indicator, to continue in the same direction means a landslide Labour victory and a Tory defeat of historic proportions at the next election. ‘It won’t

The Tory vote squeeze

When the cabinet gathered on Tuesday morning, the meeting started as a sombre affair. Just days before, the Conservatives had suffered – in the words of polling expert Sir John Curtice – ‘one of worst nights any government has endured’. The Tories lost both the Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire by-elections to Labour. The Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, managed to lighten the mood when she intervened to say that it hadn’t gone unnoticed that it was Rishi Sunak’s 365th day as Prime Minister. Loud banging on the table ensued, led by Jeremy Hunt. A year into Sunak’s premiership, neither he nor his supporters are where they would have liked to be.

The Tories need a shake-up – and Sunak knows it

When prime ministers sense the end is near, they tend to follow a similar pattern. They change senior civil servants and appointees, as Boris Johnson and Gordon Brown did. They avoid consulting their cabinet and instead hide behind special advisers. They declare they don’t like polls, before saying that the only poll that matters is the election. But before all of this, they usually attempt a ‘reset’. It’s rarely a sign of rejuvenation, but rather the start of the embalming process. Rishi Sunak is aware of this, which is why there’s no use of the word in No. 10 as politics prepares to resume. He has so far resisted calls

The problem with the Tories’ ‘local heroes’

You know the Conservative party is in trouble when it does not dare use its name on leaflets. Instead, it took a two-pronged approach in the last two general elections: a presidential campaign for the national media and local politics for the doorstep. With the Tories now 20 points behind Labour, it seems the strategy for next year’s general election is to once again go easy on the Conservative brand and emphasise the local-hero credentials of the candidates. All they need is to find some local heroes. It’s not just that local candidates are seen as more attractive, the barriers to outsiders have been fortified ‘Voters want someone who is

How Labour won back Britain’s millionaires

The battle for the next Labour manifesto is already under way. ‘I will stay up to 2 a.m. if I need to,’ warned one member of the shadow cabinet ahead of last week’s national policy forum meeting in Nottingham. The trade unions and grassroot members were pushing for radicalism, Keir Starmer for moderation. The squeals of the Labour left are seen as useful by Starmer’s team Starmer misses no opportunity to make the point that realism, not revolution, is the path to power. He was quick to blame the party’s narrow defeat in the Uxbridge by-election on Sadiq Khan’s support for the extension of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. ‘In

Rishi Sunak is no John Major

As the skies darken over Rishi Sunak’s embattled government, with ministers being fired or placed under investigation, opinion polls dire and few signs of better times ahead, Tory optimists are (somewhat desperately) searching for signs that all may not yet be irretrievably lost for their party. The hopeful precedent that they have come up with is the 1992 general election. That year, things did not look good for John Major, the man who had replaced Margaret Thatcher under controversial circumstances just two years before. The opinion polls predicted a narrow but clear victory for Labour leader Neil Kinnock until Major, then a much-mocked figure, got on a soapbox – literally – and

The chart that will decide Rishi Sunak’s fate

After his five key pledges speech this week, one can only conclude that Rishi Sunak must have been shown the chart.  The chart in question crops up in a regular update that polling firm YouGov puts out on the key political issues, as seen by various segments of the electorate. It measures the priorities of those who voted Conservative in 2019 and therefore have it within their collective power – and potential inclination – to grant the party yet another term in office. And it has told a consistent story for the past two years. The three biggest issues for voters – miles ahead of anything else – are the

What weather records were broken in 2019?

Keeping it in the family A study by the Middle East Technical University claimed to prove that the pronounced chin of Charles II of Spain and many of his Habsburg relatives was the result of marriage between cousins. Some royals who went even further: — Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhesenamun is believed to have been his half-sister. She bore two daughters who both died in infancy. — King Rama V of Siam (1868-1910), also known as Chulalongkorn, is reputed to have had 77 children with 92 different consorts, four of whom were his half-sisters. — Princess Nahienaena of Hawaii (1815-1836) bore a daughter with her brother, Prince Kauikeaouli. The baby died. Ultra

Boris and Corbyn don’t deserve an election win

The first thing to be said about a general election in December is that it is necessary. This is the case regardless of your particular Brexit preference (though should that preference be a wish for it all to go away, I am afraid not even an election can offer you any relief). The government lacks a majority and no other government can be formed in this House of Commons. So an election is required. This is not Belgium and, indeed, the United Kingdom is not capable of being Belgium. The second thing to be said about a general election in December is that there are vanishingly few good outcomes available.

The rebel alliance has taken control of parliament – and Brexit. What happens next?

Every Monday, a group of unlikely bedfellows meet in Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary office. Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat leader; Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader; Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s sole MP; and Liz Saville Roberts from Plaid Cymru all gather to discuss their common aim — preventing a no-deal Brexit. This rebel alliance is more than just a group therapy session: last week, they succeeded in taking control of parliament and immediately started to give instructions to the Prime Minister. So their Monday club is now a kind of remote-control government, with plenty to discuss. While parliament is suspended, they’ve promised to keep in touch. Corbyn usually kicks off proceedings

Does the outcome of the Ashes dictate who wins a general election?

Party speak Should the next Speaker of the House of Commons be a Labour MP on the basis that John Bercow was a Conservative before taking the chair? There has been a tradition in recent decades that the two main parties alternate in filling the role. But it doesn’t go back far — Michael Martin, Labour MP for Glasgow Springburn, succeeded Betty Boothroyd, also Labour, in 2000, not least because the Conservatives had only 165 MPs at the time and didn’t want to lose one. Between 1928 and 1965 a succession of four Speakers had been Conservative MPs. Between 1835 and 1905, by contrast, the Commons had two Whigs followed

How often has a general election been held on a Monday?

A Monday poll? The government was considering a general election on 14 October — a Monday. This raised eyebrows because general elections have been held on Thursdays since 1935. There are various theories about why — that it gives an incoming PM a weekend to form a new government, that it was market day in many towns, that fewer voters would be drunk than at the weekend, that by Thursday churchgoers would have forgotten the previous Sunday’s sermon at parish communion. But there is no single reason — each PM has been free to decide. — Until 1918, general elections were held over a period of four weeks. Elections were then

Remember, remember, the first of November

The United Kingdom is a country governed, in large part, by convention —but in the heat of the Brexit debate, those conventions are beginning to evaporate. The Speaker of the House of Commons overturned long-standing procedure to limit Theresa May’s room for manoeuvre. The opposition used a humble address to the sovereign to force the publication of the government’s full legal advice on the withdrawal agreement, though the convention is that such advice is confidential. Parliament then impinged on the executive’s crown prerogative powers by passing a law dictating how the prime minister must behave at an EU summit. Under May, Downing Street sighed at such behaviour but grudgingly accepted

Will 2019 be Corbyn’s year?

It’s hard to think of a time when an opposition leader has had such a promising start to the new year. Jeremy Corbyn finds himself up against a prime minister who barely survived a confidence motion, with more than a third of the Conservative parliamentary party voting against her. The Tories have no majority of their own and have fallen out with their partner, the DUP. That same government is facing a make-or-break Brexit vote in two weeks’ time. It’s quite possible — some cabinet members believe probable — that it may soon collapse with a new general election called. All Labour needs is to be ready. In parliament, Corbyn’s

The madness of murdering badgers

Buoyed by its huge popularity in the opinion polls and the fact that it is managing Brexit so well, the government has decided to further endear itself to the voters by shooting hundreds of thousands of badgers. Its cull of these creatures, previously limited to a few specific areas (where it has been staggeringly unsuccessful), is to be rolled out nationwide. This, then, is what we might call a Hard Brocksit strategy and it was revealed late on a bank holiday weekend in the hope that nobody would notice. But we did notice. It is not known yet how exactly these animals will be despatched. Previously the hunters have sprinkled

Corbyn 2.0

There is a naive belief at the top of government that because the Tories are only a fart’s yard behind Labour in the polls — despite daily manifestations of schism, scandal and incompetence — everything will turn out fine in the end. But this is to ignore the party’s greatest structural weakness: it is clueless in cyberspace. On the social media battlefield, it is fighting with knitting needles against Labour’s laser-guided missiles. The crude stats are humiliating for Theresa May. Her Twitter and Facebook accounts have 411,000 and 540,000 followers respectively, compared with 1.6 million and 1.4 million for Jeremy Corbyn. His online films and tweets are seen by millions,

High life | 15 June 2017

I was busy explaining to a 23-year-old American girl by the name of Jennifer why the election result was not a disaster. She is a Spectator reader and wants to work in England, preferably in politics. She called the result the worst news since her father had abandoned her mother. I begged to differ. Actually, it was a far better result than it would have been had the Conservatives won a majority of 100, I told her. She gasped in disbelief, but soon enough she was hooked. Do not be alarmed, dear readers. I have not taken LSD. Nor am I suffering from populist-nationalist rage at global elites and starting

I called it! Theresa May has been undone by her pointless election

I would direct you to Liddle passim for why we are now in this state of chaos. Even if Theresa May hadn’t run the worst election campaign in living memory (again, passim) she still wouldn’t have increased her majority by much at all. I knew that as a fact, an absolute certainty, on the day the election was called, and explained why, no matter that the polls were showing a landslide. The decision to call an election was arrogant and complacent — and so was the subsequent campaign. None of us may want the additional chaos of a leadership election, but nonetheless, there should be one. She is, as I

Diary stories

By chance on Saturday morning, I tuned into Radio 4 and heard Professor Clare Brant talking on Saturday Live about Dear Diary, a new exhibition at Somerset House in London that celebrates the art of writing a daily journal. It caught my ear because diaries are such a crucial tool for the biographer yet whenever I’ve attempted to write my own it’s always turned out dreadfully narcissistic and infinitely boring. What, asked Richard Coles, makes diaries so fascinating? It’s all in the detail, said Brant. The way reading a diary can take us into another person’s world, not the outward gloss and grandeur but right inside the way the diarist